Safer Skies, on Deadline

The federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) met a tough deadline yesterday. It hired and trained 44,000 federal workers to be airport security screeners at the nation's 429 airports.

And just in time for the holiday rush. Fliers can have more peace of mind that would-be hijackers won't easily find their way onto planes. The new screeners replace private security firms that were often lax in their work. (See story.)

TSA has been able to deal with airline security issues raised immediately after Sept. 11 while also implementing a range of major changes mandated by Congress. It's also had to contend with a Congress that to date has refused even to fully fund its work.

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The efforts and travails to secure flights also reveals how much Americans are willing to put up with the costs, burdens, delays, constitutional issues, and travel hassles necessary to prevent another hijacking, as well as to prevent any other form of terrorism in public places.

Despite its progress on screeners, though, TSA says it cannot meet a Dec. 31 deadline to have all checked bags screened for bombs at airports. The deadline has proven to be unrealistic in the face of the difficult logistics of installing the huge machines that can do the job. Congress should grant TSA a reasonable extension to complete its work in that area.

The agency's accomplishments, and the relative speed with which screeners were put in place, should now give greater impetus to the work of securing ports, land borders, chemical factories, energy refineries, nuclear facilities, and the like.

The learning curve mastered by TSA in airport security will help it and other government agencies as they continue to work to beef up security measures nationwide.

Al Qaeda won't likely choose airplanes again for a terrorist act because of the new airport security. Now the lessons learned in safeguarding planes should be applied across a range of other vulnerable public sites.

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